Friday, January 25, 2013

From "Zero Dark Thirty" to "Lincoln"

Last weekend I watched these two movies almost literally back-to-back (Zero Dark Thirty on Saturday and Lincoln on Sunday). I could write pages about the thoughts both movies sparked for me. But for now I'd like to simply comment on one aspect.

As I'm sure you know, Zero Dark Thirty has received a barrage of criticism from liberals. Some of the things being said about it are justified. But watching both movies so close together makes one of the critiques most interesting.

Poutraging about how the movie portrays the hunt for bin Laden allows Glenn Greenwald to use what must be his very favorite word: hagiography - as in his title: Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda (in other situations that is what those of us who support President Obama are engaging in). But Ben Cohen is a bit more rational with the same critique.
...given what the film didn’t cover, it can only be accurately described as a completely uncritical narrative that presented America as the heroic force for good battling evil baddies in the Middle East...

'Zero Dark Thirty’ is a homage to that naive and ultimately hypocritical version of events where Americans are a force for good, and Arabs relentlessly evil terrorists.
He's right, of course. The film was told from an Americentric point of view. And even more than that - it is a story told through the eyes of the CIA.

But now lets think about Lincoln for a moment. Both movies are riveting tales about powerful moments in our country's history. If Zero Dark Thirty is told from the CIA's perspective, Lincoln is told from the president's perspective.  It certainly would have been a completely different movie if told from a confederate point of view, or from the perspective of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

But here's the big kicker...what if the story of the passage of the Thirteen Amendment had been told from an African American's perspective? One of the most soul-crushing moments of the movie comes when Rep. Thaddeus Stevens is forced - on the floor of the House of Representatives - to disavow the franchise of African Americans in order to quell the opposition to ending slavery. With the benefit of history, we know that led to the brutality of Jim Crow. Try celebrating that moment from the eyes of African Americans.

The question then becomes...do you hear a liberal outcry that the movie Lincoln was hagiography of white people? I think we all know the answer to that question. Just as the perspective of brown people was left out of Zero Dark Thirty, the perspective of black people was left out of Lincoln.

Same as its always been.

The truth is that all history is told from the perspective of the story-teller. We need to know that. It doesn't negate the importance of that person's point of view. It simply behooves us to remember that life is always more complex than that.

2 comments:

  1. I don't know when Green Glenwald wrote "Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda", but I do know that he wrote a scathing criticism of the film without even having seen it. Perhaps what you cited was written after he finally saw the film. If so, it was only to reaffirm what he decided before having seen it. What a guy...

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  2. @Anonymous: Greenwald did eventually see ZDT, but you are right--he first criticized the film without seeing it first. And when he did see it, he still trashed it. I'd venture that he was already set to hate the film, so there you go.

    I did like ZDT, but it felt far from being CIA propaganda. It was quite straightforward, and avoided coming across as being pro or con, but that's just how I saw it. In GG's case, he's got an axe to grind against US foreign policy, and he never liked the fact that Bin Laden was killed by the US.

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